Hi there. Thanks for asking.
The last time I posted about my summer adventures was September, 2019, and well, I figured I might as well catch you up again.
To be sure: this past summer was a whole lot different than the summer of ’19. Two summers ago I wrote about, among other things, getting facials and seeing old friends; hiking in Lake Tahoe and planning college visits with my high school junior. It was an easier time. Fear of dying from a virus certainly was not on our collective minds. Back then the future seemed bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I was confident my newly-revised novel would interest an agent. I moved my mother, who was steadily declining from dementia, into a new, purportedly safe and supportive memory-care facility.
Then, as 2019 meandered into 2020, the universe began to shift. In January, I was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Cutaneous B-Cell Lymphoma. Given that it wasn’t supposed to kill me, we kept our February-break plans and flew to Isla Mujeres with Loy’s pal Ella to celebrate Loy’s 18th birthday.
We spent a week lazing about on beaches, eating street tacos, and petting dogs. It was while we were in Mexico that the word COVID began to enter our lexicon.
Little did I know, as we boarded our flight from Cancun to Montreal, that as 2020 rolled on, I’d be
- canceling all social plans;
- buying an oximeter;
- quitting my volunteer work for Feeding Chittenden;
- watching countless YouTube videos to learn how to turn bandanas and old yoga pants into face masks;
- borrowing every Louise Penny novel from a neighbor who’d leave them on her front porch. I’d return them with a thank-you note stuck inside. We have yet to actually meet;
- witnessing my daughter’s graduation from high school through the window of a car;
- washing all my groceries in hot soapy water;
- fearing ever leaving my house (more than I normally do);
- meditating, reading about meditating, and doing walking meditations for hours on end so as to counter my ever-growing stress and anxiety;
- undergoing two radiation treatments to my skull which would render me partially bald, but also send my cancer into remission;
- trying out so many Korean recipes that the owner of the local Asian grocery store would greet me by name;
- subscribing to a dozen YouTube fitness channels so I could work my body in the bowels of our basement. Some of my favorites included:
- moving my college freshman into a rental house in South Burlington so that she and three roommates could “attend” college remotely;
- helping a lovely woman (who I only knew virtually) determine whether or not her life story was worth writing about (it is);
- having to say goodbye to my mother on FaceTime, after she—along with a dozen other residents—contracted Covid-19.
Then, as 2020 meandered into 2021, hope sprung eternal. As did my hair. By then we’d stopped wiping down our milk cartons with bleach and knew the difference between N95 and KN95. Because our newly-elected president was far far better than the one who came before him, we allowed ourselves to dream of better days ahead. We all got vaccinated (okay: not all of us got the shots, but most of the people I had any desire to see again chose to trust the science). We started to envision what it would feel like to hug our friends again.
We made summer plans.
Which brings me to the actual catch-up part. Here is how this summer, the summer of 2021, went down. I
- adapted many of my favorite recipes so that my home-again vegetarian child would eat more than mac and cheese for dinner;
- rearranged my office;
- drank a lot of gin;
- ate at a restaurant for the first time in many months. Outside. With my friend, Margot;
- revised my novel (yet again) and started writing a book of essays;
- finally got to know (and adore) our house/cat-sitter Jenny. Every summer since moving to Burlington we’ve traveled west to see friends and family; have ourselves some adventures. Back in 2013, when we first needed to find someone to watch over our domain, we replied to Jenny’s Craigslist ad. Jenny, a young poetess who teaches in Arcata, got her undergrad degree at University of Vermont and because she still maintains some strong ties to the city, she wanted to spend her summers here. Other than the summer of 2020 (the summer that never was), she has been doing just that. In our house. In January, when the fate of the universe was still decidedly undecided, Jenny wrote and asked, “You still going away this summer? Am I coming?” Being the perpetual perseverator that I am, I replied, “I have no idea, but yeah, maybe. I guess. I mean, sure.”
Jenny arrived in the middle of June. Loy and Victor did go west, but I was still too afraid to venture forth. So, Jenny and I hung out together. I cooked. She fed the cats at night. We binged on Netflix shows. We fell into a comfortable routine, like college kids in a dorm slowly getting to know one another. Other than her 20-minute-long showers in the mornings, I warmed to her presence. When Loy came back from California, she and Jenny bonded like two kittens from different litters thrown into the same cage at the humane society. They shared their passions for horror films, 70s-style clothing, falafels, and all things animals. By the time Jenny left in August, she’d become like a daughter to me and a big sister to Loy;
- pickled every kind of vegetable that grew up from the ground;
- renewed my subscription to the CALM meditation app;
- became estranged from a couple of folks I used to think of as friends;
- shoved Q-Tips into my nostrils and twirled them around before placing them into test tubes—just to be sure I was still negative;
- booked an Airbnb on the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. I biked, hiked, wrote, napped and kayaked for four blissful days;
- got a haircut so the post-cancer hair kinda sorta looked like it blended with the old hair;
- put on my brave face, covered it with an KN95 mask, and flew to San Diego at the end of August to memorialize my mother with my younger brother Scott’s family. We’d planned to spread Mom’s ashes in the ocean but when I pictured the crowded beach and the ashes gusting back into our faces, I decided we needed an alternative plan. After spending the day swimming in the ocean and eating really good deli sandwiches, Scott called me the next morning and said, “I just had a dream where Mom and I were at the La Costa Country Club and she asked me to dance. She loved that place. We should scatter her ashes there.”
She did love that place; loved telling people she lived in the same hood as the world-famous, ultra-posh resort (newly renamed Omni La Costa Resort & Spa). After my dad left her she used to go dancing at the nightclub. One time I joined her and there we were sitting at the bar, scouting potential dance partners when, who should walk in, holding the hand of his new girlfriend, but my father. My mother, her mouth fixed in an angry sneer, went up to him, said, “This is my spot. You do not get to come here anymore,” and then threw her drink into his face.
It was the perfect spot to spread her ashes.
We met in the parking lot. Scott had the enormous bag of ashes my uncle had mailed him. The only scoops we could find were two plastic water cups we’d grabbed from a take-out taco spot (Mom would have appreciated that, given her love of tacos). Scott took one. I held the other. And then, while the seven of us strolled around the grounds, quietly talking, Scott and I stealthily dipped and sprinkled, dipped and sprinkled as we went. Next to that fountain. Over the arbor. Under the bench. In front, near the entrance. By the steps leading up to the bar—where she met more than a few of her post-dad lovers.
An hour or so later, as the sun was setting, we gathered in a circle on a hillside to say a few words. By the time my niece, Brianna, spoke, I realized no one was filming so I only managed to record the two granddaughters talking about their grandma;
- traveled an hour and a half northeast to The Claremont Colleges and moved Loy into her awesome (SINGLE) dorm room at Scripps College, the all-female college in the consortium. It was hot that day, like 107 degrees hot. And the AC in her building was broken. While Loy and Victor unpacked the three enormous bags of dorm room paraphernalia which Delta kindly flew across the country, I sat in the hallway, sweat pouring down into my eyes, trying to put together a fan we’d picked up at Target. For the life of me, it wouldn’t work. Finally, cursing through my frustration, I realized that two pieces were missing. Dammit. I drove to the nearest Target, exchanged it for a new one, then, on the brilliant advice of my partner, opened the box before driving away. Sure enough, the same two pieces were missing.
With Loy finally settled (in front of a working fan), we said our goodbyes. It was both an exciting and stunningly melancholy moment: the moment I knew it was time to step aside and let my child make her way forward. I’d helped raise my baby through to adulthood. I’d tried to give her all the skills she needed to make sense of the world. I’d loved her fiercely (sometimes in unhealthy ways). I’d taught her right from wrong. I’d instilled in her a sense of curiosity, and a thirst for the written word. I’d laughed at her lame jokes. Oohed over her mediocre artwork. Cheered from the shore as she rowed toward finish lines. Applauded as she bowed after performing a Strauss concerto. Supported her as she protested society’s injustices. Held her when her heart broke.
Her presence in my life has been nothing short of magical. I cannot wait to see what the future has in store for my daughter and that astonishing mind of hers;
- drove 6.5 hours (it should have only taken 4.5 hours but damn, traffic in CA is crazy bad) to Morro Bay, where I spent 5 delectable, fog-shrouded days with my old college roommate and good pal, Sue. Her house was a block from the beach, so when we weren’t catching up, or she wasn’t cooking for me or baking amazing loaves of bread, or bringing me to see the elephant seals and otters, (or teaching me how to keep guacamole looking and tasting fresh for days by pouring a layer of milk over it), I’d either hike along the high cliffs, or grab a chair, a sweatshirt, and a book, and spend hours on her quiet stretch of beach, close to the fuming sea and flocking birds;
hugged Sue goodbye and drove south to Santa Barbara, where I met up with my BFF, Lori, who I usually spend my summers in Lake Tahoe with (it’s her cabin). Lori had generously used up a few thousand of her American Airlines miles to book us into a lovely inn right across the street from West Beach and Stearns Wharf. We got takeout tacos (there’s most def a pattern there) and had a picnic on the beach. We lounged around the salt water pool, thankfully devoid of other guests. One morning we strolled to the end of Point Castillo and came upon a TV reporter setting up his camera. Coincidentally, it was the two-year anniversary of the sinking of the MV Conception. We stood around with our hands in our pockets as the local city councilwoman paid tribute to the 34 people who died in the fire. It was a sad ending to an otherwise super fun (but too-short) time spent with the girlfriend I fell for in a prenatal yoga class so many years ago;
silently cursed the couple with whom I shared a row on my cross-country flight back to Vermont. They spent the entire 5 hours eating and drinking and not wearing their masks.
While the summer of 2021 had its fair share of marvelous moments, it was anything but typical. No matter where I went or what I did I found myself on guard; cautious. I fretted in every airport and on every airplane because of all the below-the-nose mask-wearers. I still kept a wide berth when passing people while walking in town, or hiking along beach cliffs. I never ate or drank indoors. There was less of a sense of ease. Less joy. Less just being.
Maybe I was/am too paranoid about catching Covid. I’m in that class of folks with an “underlying condition,” so, yeah, I’m extra fearful. (If I were to lose my sense of taste and/or smell I think I would roll into a ball and cry until my tears turned to dust.)
Like everyone else on the planet, I want everything to be normal again.
- I want to stop worrying;
- I want to stop being angry at the unvaccinated sick people who are sucking up all the attention and making it hard for people with cancer and other ailments to get the medical care they need;
- I want my friends in Australia to be able to leave their homes again;
- I want my older brother, who lives in Missouri, to be able to play cards with his buddies again;
- I want to stop having to tell the person in line behind me to “please back up”;
- I want to go see the Vermont Symphony Orchestra perform in October, but I know I probably won’t;
- I want to bring my laptop to a café where I can sit for hours drinking coffee and writing;
- I want people to stop being on opposite sides of the equation;
- I want peace and love and understanding;
- I want to stop having to wear a fucking mask.
I do believe things will get better. I do. I believe this nightmare will become but a memory: maybe not a distant one, but it will lose its grip over the planetary psyche. We will all start living with less fear, and we will begin to plan for future adventures. In fact, this past week I started volunteering again, and I’m already fantasizing about trips to Patagonia and the Scottish Highlands and Australia.
The summer of 2021 was a different kind of summer.
It was the summer of uncertainty.
The summer of truths and lies.
It was the summer of small steps and big changes.
It was the summer of goodbyes.